The townships of Denton and Haughton were formerly one of the foremost hatting centres in the world. These pages contain bygone views of the townships dating from the early 20th century up to the 1970s.
History of the Bowler Hat
The bowler hat is a hard felt hat that was developed in 1849 by William and Thomas Bowler for James Locke & Co of St James’s Street, London, and the original hat was created at the works of their family business at Southwark, London. James Locke & Co had been commissioned on the 25 August 1849 by their client, the Hon. Edward Coke (pronounced ‘cook’), son of Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester of Holkham Hall, Norfolk, to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat with a narrow rim to protect gamekeepers from low-hanging branches while on horseback.
William Bowler was born at Haughton, Denton, on the 25 January 1808 to William Bowler Sr and Esther Catlow who were married at Manchester Cathedral in 1798. He was baptised at St Lawrence’s Church, Denton, on the 20 March 1808. William Bowler Sr was employed as a felt maker and hatter.
Thomas Bowler was born at Haughton, Denton, on the 17 September 1826 to Nancy Bowler and he was baptised at St Lawrence’s Church, Denton, on the 10 December 1826. William Bowler was the uncle of his business partner, Thomas Bowler, because his father, William Bowler Sr, and Nancy Bowler were brother and sister.
Esther Bowler née Catlow died in early 1860 after which William Bowler returned to Denton where he married Mary Hulme at St Michael’s Church, Ashton-under-Lyne, on the 10 September 1860. In 1861 he was resident on Town Lane, Denton, with his wife, Mary, and son, Thomas (b. at Southwark, London, in 1846). By 1871 he was resident on Peel Street, Denton, with his wife and grandson (b. at Bermondsey, London, in 1867). Later the family moved to West Street, off Oldham Street, Denton, where he died on the 9 February 1878, aged 70 years.
Thomas Bowler remained in London running the family business and by 1881 he was resident at Camberwell employing 65 men, 60 women and 14 boys. By 1891 he was resident at Highbury New Park, Islington, with his wife, Elizabeth Park (married at Lambeth in 1848), and six of their children. He served as Upper Warden of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers of the City of London and was due to become Master when he died of jaundice during a holiday in Guernsey on 5 September 1893, aged 67 years. The family business on Southwark Bridge Road, Southwark, continued after his death and by 1939 it had a work force of 600. In 1940 the hat works was destroyed by two consecutive air raids during the blitz. The business then moved to Great Marlborough Street, London, where it was in business manufacturing ladies’ hats until 1962.
An earlier reference to the Bowler family business connecting Haughton and Southwark was published in the London Gazette on the 21 May 1816. This mentions George Bowler the Elder, George Bowler the Younger and Robert Armstrong of Haughton and of Worcester Street, Southwark, hat manufacturers, dealers, chapmen and co-partners, carrying on trade at Haughton under the firm of Bowler, Son, and Company and in the Borough of Southwark, under the firm of Robert Armstrong and Company.
Photographs: Author's Collection